Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1
Written by Chip Zdarsky and Mike Drucker
Art by Michael Allred, Chris Bachalo, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba, Wayne Faucher, Livesay, Tim Townsend, and Laura Allred
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Despite all the buzz about Chip Zdarsky taking over Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man (with a superstar artist like Adam Kubert, to boot), what’s been most surprising about this run hasn’t just been Zdarsky’s take on the Wall-Crawler, but with everyone’s favorite comic book curmudgeon, J. Jonah Jameson. Ever since the former publisher of The Daily Bugle discovered Peter Parker’s secret identity, The Spectacular Spider-Man has had an unpredictability and energy that is as unmistakable as it is surprising - which is why Zdarsky and artist Michael Allred taking a Jonah-centric approach to their annual proves to be a fun undertaking.
Husband. Publisher. Mayor. Pundit. Spider-Slayer. Proud werewolf astronaut father. Underneath all his bluster and crankiness, J. Jonah Jameson is a character whose history allows him to contain multitudes - and so it’s a particularly savvy move on Zdarsky’s part to have included him in his storylines, letting Ol’ Flattop steal the show with every new scene he’s in. Because even though he knows who’s under Spider-Man’s mask, JJJ can’t help but be a lunatic about it - in his own friendly, neighborhood way, offering Peter some tremendously unsolicited advice. And isn’t that always the way with parents, whether of the biological or surrogate variety? But Zdarsky takes this framework and places it alongside Jonah’s past as a rabblerouser and a jerk, when Jonah discovers what it feels like when the Spider-Slayer is on the other foot when a former competitor decides to take his aggression out on him.
By framing his story largely around Jonah’s past relationships, he’s able to provide surprising amounts of humor and heart to this issue - while I’m not necessarily convinced by Zdarsky’s flashback that stone-faced Jonah would also be a prankster, the rest of the characterization rings true, particularly with a heartbreaker of a final panel where we see the good nature that Jonah tries relentlessly to hide under his menacing mustache. (And that’s not to say that Peter gets short-changed as the straight man to Jonah’s antics - there is a hilarious scene where Johnny Storm finds his wall-crawling buddy two-timing him on their weekly coffee spot that is one of the funniest bits I’ve seen in comics in a long time.)
Pairing Zdarsky with Michael Allred also proves to be a shrewd move, as their styles feel custom-made for one another. Allred, like Zdarsky, excels most with his character beats rather than his action sequences - the look on Spidey’s face when Johnny catches him is going to make me ugly-laugh for quite a long time, thanks - and in general, Allred’s pop art style requires that sort of ironic view that Zdarsky’s sense of humor hinges upon. Allred can do over-the-top very well when it comes to his characters, and there are few in the Spider-Man universe quite as out there as Jonah - but that elasticity feels even more impressive when Allred then suddenly reins it in with a thoughtful or heartfelt scene of sadness or melancholy.
Combine that with a fun slice-of-life story written by comedian Mike Drucker drawn winningly by Chris Bachalo, and Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1 is definitely a worthy treat, and one that I think in many ways recontextualizes perhaps what we should expect out of this series moving forward. There’s no sense in competing with world-shaking, bombastic events and status quo changes, given that Amazing Spider-Man will always be the flagship book, but Zdarsky’s focus on character and the soap operatics of Spider-Man’s life (as well as those of his supporting cast) gives this book its own flavor that he seems perfectly suited to deliver. Whether you think he’s a threat or a menace, J. Jonah Jameson’s star turn here makes this one of the week’s most unpredictable reads.